Del Mar’s new Civic Center resolves this Southern California village’s longstanding need for a centralized venue where people can come together to celebrate community and exercise civic engagement.
Client City of Del Mar
Size 68,000 SF
Standing on the terrace of Del Mar Civic Center can be likened to a spiritual experience. Extensive views of the Pacific Ocean inundate the eyes, and the scent of sage and star jasmine drifts through the air bringing calm and serenity to anyone who breathes it. Surprisingly, this is not a private property, but a public place welcome to all. Here, city and citizenry come together in a building that unites the elemental parts of community: administration, recreation, and most importantly, identity, while doing so in a manner that embraces the natural conditions of Del Mar, and providing much needed community space and parking.
Prior to this development, Del Mar’s public activities were scattered throughout the city, often occurring in private-sector spaces. The new Civic Center consolidates primary public functions in one location and places them at the heart of the coastal town.
Located on a 1.5-acre property adjacent to Camino Del Mar, the town’s main thoroughfare, the Civic Center functions as a series of interconnected structures, courtyards and terraces and open spaces that follow the contours of the site, while preserving spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. The complex includes a 3,000-square-foot Town Hall, a 9,000-square-foot City Hall, a 20,000-square-foot Town Commons, as well as parking for 140 vehicles, most of which is discretely tucked below the complex. The majority of the site is dedicated to public open space with planted gardens, active and passive courtyards, and an area for the community farmer’s market.
The Civic Center’s design is derived from its local context: residential in scale and built using warm, natural materials, such as wood and colored concrete inspired by the sandstone bluffs below. The shape and massing of the Center take direction from other beloved buildings in the neighborhood, like St. Peters Church, for example. The horizontal low rooflines, the cupola overhang, and the use of green spaces provide an aesthetic consistency, and assure residents of Del Mar that the new center will feel distinctly of Del Mar.
Spaces flow from one to another, as well as from inside to outside, like a set of family beachside cottages. The landscape showcases native and drought tolerant plants, including Torrey pines that have defined the area for generations. Careful placement of new pines—noted for their significant loss of needles and cones—will minimize maintenance and ensure their long-term care and survival.
Town Hall, the community meeting space, is symbolically pulled to the edge of the site to reinforce the public nature of the complex. Low slung in stature, the interior is open and features exposed wood beams, which take their inspiration from the needles and branches of the region’s Torrey pine. A cupola tops the space and, paired with operable clerestory windows, provides natural ventilation. The area’s mild climate means that the complex essentially functions off-the-grid (the complex was designed for net zero operations). Passive ventilation provides cooling (windows are programmed to open when appropriate). Site water is captured for reuse. A rooftop solar array and battery system meet approximately 75 percent of the Center’s electrical demand.
City Hall is composed of two primary spaces—city council chambers and administrative offices—that are connected by an enclosed breezeway. But because the design was also intended to demystify the activities of politicians, and to make the governmental process transparent, the breezeway enables passers-by to look in, and passively participate in the civic process. It also ensures that the Civic Center be a part of many residents’ everyday commute, and doesn’t restrict attendance to just those directly using the building.
Decades in the making, the Del Mar Civic Center is, at its core, an expression of place and civic commitment. With its emphasis on indoor and outdoor public gathering spaces, the modest yet considered complex strives to be a good neighbor in this landscape of human-scaled spaces and well-loved nature.